Swamp Juice @ Udderbelly
The last five years have seen a revival of clowning and vaudeville, with the likes of The Boy With The Tape On His Face, Piff The Magic Dragon and Ridiculusmus subverting the form – but all too often it seems like an adults-only concern. Swamp Juice, created by Canadian Jeff Achtem, redresses this.
Using very little dialogue, his demented Dr Bunk, who has the wild-eyed menace of Tom Waits presenting CBBC, projects shadow puppets onto the screen, showing nature's cruel hierarchy – man versus beast in a fight to the death – with lots of pantomime sadism, cute animals and fart gags. Accompanying Achtem are an excellent raggle-taggle band whose percussive soundtrack heightens the old-fashioned circus thrills.
Initially, the show starts off seeming slow-paced and inconsequential, with Achtem's puppet of himself cackling and chasing the Birdie puppet around to no avail, but subtly, unexpectedly,it builds in momentum, culminating in an audacious 3D finale which is as hilarious as it is jaw-dropping.
Achtem's puppets are brilliant, particularly his avatar, and he taps into the feeling of child-like wonder and magic – the sense that anything is possible. Kids and adults alike squeal with delight – even the cynical old sceptics who balk at the thought of puppet shows.